Proposed bill makes PMs immune from earlier wrongdoings

Ministers okay legislation protecting prime ministers from investigations into possibly illegal activities before taking office.

May 17, 2011 03:44
2 minute read.
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert.

Ehud Olmert 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

The Ministerial Committee for Legislation on Sunday approved a government bill aimed at banning police investigations against incumbent prime ministers for wrongdoings they allegedly committed before entering office.

The bill, sponsored by Kadima MK Ronit Tirosh, proposes that any investigation into alleged wrongdoings by a prime minister be held off until after he or she leaves office. The proposal excludes severe crimes, such as rape or murder, and determines that the statute of limitations would not include the time served in office.

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According to the bill, “The attorney-general will order an investigation into the opening of a criminal investigation into the affairs of the prime minister, if there are grounds to suspect him of committing a crime, or in case the attorney- general determines that in light of the nature of the offenses the investigation cannot be postponed.”

In all other instances, the investigation will only commence once the prime minister leaves office.

If passed in the Knesset, the law would only go into effect after the next election.

The bill’s explanatory notes state that the current status, in which there is no limit on investigating a prime minister, makes the premier “a captive in the hands of the investigatory authorities, forcing him to divide his precious time between running the country and managing his defense to prove his innocence.”

The text goes on to explain that there is fear that the prime minister will make existential decisions in a rushed manner due to his or her preoccupation with the many investigations that rob them of their time attention and energy.

Tirosh said that part of the reason for the law was to prevent a situation whereby complaints are lodged against a serving prime minister, for political or ideological reasons, to pressure him to resign. “In the past, some investigations into alleged wrongdoings of prime ministers ended in a murmur,” Tirosh added.

Two former prime minister who were members of Kadima, Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, were investigated on corruption charges while they were prime minister. There was a criminal probe into campaign- financing operations of Ehud Barak’s One Israel bloc when he was prime minister. Current Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was investigated on corruption charges during his previous stint as prime minister.

The bill earned the support of all the committee members, including Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman, and it was determined that the bill would go through the legislative process in close coordination with his ministry.

The bill will be brought to its first reading in the Knesset on Wednesday, unless one of the ministers appeals Sunday's vote. It is possible that either Bennie Begin or Michael Eitan, both from the Likud, will appeal the committee’s vote by Sunday. Since the bill proposes to modify a Basic Law, it may require a 61 MK absolute majority to pass in the plenum.

Gil Hoffman contributed to this report.

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